The world faces a devastating diabetes epidemic, with the annual death toll already exceeding the three million killed by AIDS and set to rise, the World Health Organization warned Wednesday.
Issuing an alarm, the WHO and the International Diabetes Foundation said the number of sufferers worldwide would more than double to 366 million by 2030, from some 171 million at present.
Although often thought a rich country risk, it is in poorer countries that diabetes is growing fastest, with cases seen rising 150 percent over the next 25 years. In India, for example, the number would leap from 32 million to 80 million.
Disease surging in poorer countries
Furthermore, while in rich states diabetes affects mainly older people, in poorer countries the incidence is surging among those still in the work force, the two organizations said.
“The number is increasing dramatically and has the potential to overwhelm countries’ health systems,” said Dr. Robert Beaglehole, the WHO director for chronic disease.
WHO and the Foundation said they were launching a campaign to raise awareness, because, unlike some other health threats, diabetes could be prevented by improved eating and exercise habits.
“It is determined environmentally and therefore it can be reversed,” Beaglehole said.
Some 3.2 million people died in 2000 of ailments brought on by diabetes such as cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. 2000 is the latest year for which figures were available.
'Problem is largely unrecognized'
“The burden of premature death from diabetes is similar to that of HIV/AIDS, yet the problem is largely unrecognized,” the two organizations said in a statement. AIDS killed three million people in 2000.
The per capita death toll was highest in the Middle East and parts of the Pacific, with more than one in four deaths in the 35-64 age range attributed to diabetes.
There is some evidence ethnicity plays a role, with Asians and Africans seemingly more prone to the illness, which can also cause blindness and poor circulation leading in some cases to amputation of limbs.
Type 1 diabetes, which mainly affects children, appears genetically determined and has no cure.
But most sufferers have type 2, which some 58 percent of the time is triggered by being overweight, combined with a lack of exercise, the WHO and the Foundation said.